The Story of My Life

The Story of My Life

by Helen Keller

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Overview

When she was 19 months old, Helen Keller (1880–1968) suffered a severe illness that left her blind and deaf. Not long after, she also became mute. Her tenacious struggle to overcome these handicaps-with the help of her inspired teacher, Anne Sullivan-is one of the great stories of human courage and dedication. In this classic autobiography, first published in 1903, Miss Keller recounts the first 22 years of her life, including the magical moment at the water pump when, recognizing the connection between the word "water" and the cold liquid flowing over her hand, she realized that objects had names. Subsequent experiences were equally noteworthy: her joy at eventually learning to speak, her friendships with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Edward Everett Hale and other notables, her education at Radcliffe (from which she graduated cum laude), and-underlying all-her extraordinary relationship with Miss Sullivan, who showed a remarkable genius for communicating with her eager and quick-to-learn pupil. These and many other aspects of Helen Keller's life are presented here in clear, straightforward prose full of wonderful descriptions and imagery that would do credit to a sighted writer. Completely devoid of self-pity, yet full of love and compassion for others, this deeply moving memoir offers an unforgettable portrait of one of the outstanding women of the twentieth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486131252
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 03/30/2012
Series: Dover Thrift Editions
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 104,111
File size: 978 KB
Age Range: 11 Years

About the Author

Helen Keller (1880–1968) was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. When she was nineteen months old, an illness left her deaf and blind. The story of her education, from learning her first word at the age of seven to entering Radcliffe College twelve years later, has inspired millions of people all over the world, and was the basis for The Miracle Worker, a Tony Award–winning play and Academy Award–winning film. A tireless advocate for people with disabilities and for women’s rights, Keller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. 

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

It is with a kind of fear that I begin to write the history of my life. I have, as it were, a superstitious hesitation in lifting the veil that clings about my childhood like a golden mist. The task of writing an autobiography is a difficult one. When I try to classify my earliest impressions, I find that fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present. The woman paints the child's experiences in her own fantasy. A few impressions stand out vividly from the first years of my life; but "the shadows of the prison-house are on the rest." Besides, many of the joys and sorrows of childhood have lost their poignancy; and many incidents of vital importance in my early education have been forgotten in the excitement of great discoveries. In order, therefore, not to be tedious I shall try to present in a series of sketches only the episodes that seem to me to be the most interesting and important.

I was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, a little town of northern Alabama.

The family on my father's side is descended from Caspar Keller, a native of Switzerland, who settled in Maryland. One of my Swiss ancestors was the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich and wrote a book on the subject of their education-rather a singular coincidence; though it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.

My grandfather, Caspar Keller's son, "entered" large tracts of land in Alabama and finally settled there. I have been told that once a year he went from Tuscumbia to Philadelphia on horseback to purchase supplies for the plantation, and my aunt has in her possession many of the letters to his family, which give charming and vivid accounts of these trips.

My Grandmother Keller was a daughter of one of Lafayette's aides, Alexander Moore, and granddaughter of Alexander Spotswood, an early Colonial Governor of Virginia. She was also second cousin to Robert E. Lee.

My father, Arthur H. Keller, was a captain in the Confederate Army, and my mother, Kate Adams, was his second wife and many years younger. Her grandfather, Benjamin Adams, married Susanna E. Goodhue, and lived in Newbury, Massachusetts, for many years. Their son, Charles Adams, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and moved to Helena, Arkansas. When the Civil War broke out, he fought on the side of the South and became a brigadier-general. He married Lucy Helen Everett, who belonged to the same family of Everetts as Edward Everett and Dr. Edward Everett Hale. After the war was over the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

I lived, up to the time of the illness that deprived me of my sight and hearing, in a tiny house consisting of a large square room and a small one, in which the servant slept. It is a custom in the South to build a small house near the homestead as an annex to be used on occasion. Such a house my father built after the Civil War, and when he married my mother they went to live in it. It was completely covered with vines, climbing roses and honeysuckles. From the garden it looked like an arbour. The little porch was hidden from view by a screen of yellow roses and Southern smilax. It was the favourite haunt of humming-birds and bees.

The Keller homestead, where the family lived, was a few steps from our little rose-bower. It was called "Ivy Green" because the house and the surrounding trees and fences were covered with beautiful English ivy. Its old-fashioned garden was the paradise of my childhood.

Even in the days before my teacher came, I used to feel along the square stiff boxwood hedges, and, guided by the sense of smell, would find the first violets and lilies. There, too, after a fit of temper, I went to find comfort and to hide my hot face in the cool leaves and grass. What joy it was to lose myself in that garden of flowers, to wander happily from spot to spot, until, coming suddenly upon a beautiful vine, I recognized it by its leaves and blossoms, and knew it was the vine which covered the tumble-down summer-house at the farther end of the garden! Here, also, were trailing clematis, drooping jessamine, and some rare sweet flowers called butterfly lilies, because their fragile petals resemble butterflies' wings. But the roses-they were loveliest of all. Never have I found in the greenhouses of the North such heart-satisfying roses as the climbing roses of my southern home. They used to hang in long festoons from our porch, filling the whole air with their fragrance, untainted by any earthy smell; and in the early morning, washed in the dew, they felt so soft, so pure, I could not help wondering if they did not resemble the asphodels of God's garden.

The beginning of my life was simple and much like every other little life. I came, I saw, I conquered, as the first baby in the family always does. There was the usual amount of discussion as to a name for me. The first baby in the family was not to be lightly named, every one was emphatic about that. My father suggested the name of Mildred Campbell, an ancestor whom he highly esteemed, and he declined to take any further part in the discussion. My mother solved the problem by giving it as her wish that I should be called after her mother, whose maiden name was Helen Everett. But in the excitement of carrying me to church my father lost the name on the way, very naturally, since it was one in which he had declined to have a part. When the minister asked him for it, he just remembered that it had been decided to call me after my grandmother, and he gave her name as Helen Adams.

I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting disposition. Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating. At six months I could pipe out "How d'ye," and one day I attracted every one's attention by saying "Tea, tea, tea" quite plainly. Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word.

They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bath-tub and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother's lap and almost ran toward them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms.

These happy days did not last long. One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mockingbird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain.1 The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.

I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my waking hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall, away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came-my teacher-who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, "the day is ours, and what the day has shown."

Table of Contents

When she was 19 months old, Helen Keller (1880–1968) suffered a severe illness that left her blind and deaf. Not long after, she also became mute. Her tenacious struggle to overcome these handicaps-with the help of her inspired teacher, Anne Sullivan-is one of the great stories of human courage and dedication. In this classic autobiography, first published in 1903, Miss Keller recounts the first 22 years of her life, including the magical moment at the water pump when, recognizing the connection between the word "water" and the cold liquid flowing over her hand, she realized that objects had names. Subsequent experiences were equally noteworthy: her joy at eventually learning to speak, her friendships with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Edward Everett Hale and other notables, her education at Radcliffe (from which she graduated cum laude), and-underlying all-her extraordinary relationship with Miss Sullivan, who showed a remarkable genius for communicating with her eager and quick-to-learn pupil. These and many other aspects of Helen Keller's life are presented here in clear, straightforward prose full of wonderful descriptions and imagery that would do credit to a sighted writer. Completely devoid of self-pity, yet full of love and compassion for others, this deeply moving memoir offers an unforgettable portrait of one of the outstanding women of the twentieth century.

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The Story of My Life 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 244 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Story of my Life was a fantastic book. Helen Keller really showed how hard it was being both blind and deaf. She demonstrated her stuggles, accomplishments, and fears. Helen revealed many sides of her through this book. It makes me sad to think about how she had a tough life, but it makes me happy to see how much she accomplished throughout her life. This book is a very good book, and it should be on everybody's to read list!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Here is an individual who faced 3 huge obstacles: blindness, deafness and no ability to speak. Yet this individual wasn¿t deterred in the slightest for her yearning to learn. Reading this book you will see parts of the story of Helen Keller that you¿ve never heard before because she is telling the story. Helen Keller had a very difficult time when she was little. She couldn¿t see or hear therefore she couldn¿t talk, which often made her very upset. And so she would throw tantrums quite often when she could not get people to understand her. But that was all over when Helen met her teacher 'Anne Sullivan' who was a ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope in a black world of everlasting night. Helen was determined at first, but then began to believe it was impossible to ever fit in with anybody else. Her new teacher never gave up and from the moment Helen said her first word ¿water¿, she took off like a rocket. She learned to talk, read and write, all the while learning little lessons on science, math, and history. She was always grateful to her teacher, who gave her hope and joy, to be able to talk with her mouth instead of her hands. But Helen¿s story did not stop there. She went on to college, and learned to love canoeing and sailing. It will never cease to amaze me how someone with such extreme disabilities would go on to live life to it¿s fullest extent and enjoy it 100%. The story of Helen Keller is one that will inspire me to enjoy life even during times of hardship.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really thought it was touching and a beautiful story. I used to love to read about helen keller and anne frank. I was almost obsessed with reading and learnig about them. My name is alicia najera nd i hope you enjoy this book as much as i did.
skylar wilson More than 1 year ago
This was a great read. Although the typographical errors made the book more strenuous to read, the story was magnificent in general.
Annika Downey More than 1 year ago
it was a good story......but like alot of free books it dors have some errors.BE SURE TO BOOKMARK because otherwise it pops up at the beginning.still good though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A pretty good story but the person above me is right. There are a lot of typos.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She was a biography writer whos biography turned into a classic!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Terrible scan.... luved book, but awful scan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was so touching and sad but I have the 200 page book and I relly love this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book and enjoyed having to decypher the typos. It made the book interesting though it was annoying at times. I liked having a challenge, but if you aren't up to it, I wouldn't recommend it to you. In my opinion, I enjoyed the story and Helen's way of writing! Beautifully written!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this book good
MrsLeahC More than 1 year ago
While I am sure that this book is wonderful, I couldn't get past all of the typos. I am going to find a version that is easier to read! Just an example of free not working out on nook!
Leticia Sullivant More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully written autobiography. However, there are too many distracting typographical errors. I didn't bother to get past the first chapter. Disappointing!
Tara21TC More than 1 year ago
I've always looked up to Helen Keller and thought she was a great woman, but I've never really known much about her. I always thought that she was born deaf and blind. I never knew that it was an illness that took these precious gifts away from her when she was only a year and seven months. All I knew was that she was a lady who-for some reason-was deaf and blind but still managed to communicate thanks to her teacher Anne Sullivan, but that is all. Everything else about this amazing lady and all her accomplishments I had absolutely no idea about. As I read this book, it opened my eyes to all the amazing things she accomplished that some people with out any disabilities at all fail to achieve. Time and time again I am amazed at the deepness of Helen Keller's thoughts and feelings and also the way she expresses herself. Every time I sit down to read her book I am amazed by her writing. Her comparisons and metaphors rival that of any other writer. The way she almost puts emotion into the person reading the book just because that emotion is felt so deeply by her and described so well in her writing, it's phenomenal. I'll just give one or two examples of her writing that are one of my favorites mostly because I did not feel the same way about the subject as she did but now I do because of her phenomenal word choice and metaphor. "Every one who wishes to gain true knowledge must climb the Hill Difficulty alone, and since there is no royal road to the summit, I must zigzag it in my own way. I slip back many times, I fall, I stand still, I run against the edge of hidden obstacles, I lose my temper and find it again and keep it better. I trudge on, I gain a little, I feel encouraged, I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory. One more effort and I reach the luminous cloud, the blue depths of the sky, the uplands of my desire" (Helen Keller 75). Just the way she talks about her desire and struggles to learn and grow makes me want to grow and experience that same sense of satisfaction that comes after all the battles have been won and opposition conquered. She also goes on to say that, "great poetry . . . needs no other interpreter than a responsive heart . . . it is not necessary that one should be able to define every word and give it its practical parts and its grammatical position in the sentence in order to understand and appreciate a fine poem" (Helen Keller 83). This different view opened up a new way of looking at reading for me, one where I might not understand everything I read but none the less enjoy and love what I'm reading. There have been many times where I have tried to read a book but not know what all the words meant and not understand it as deeply as maybe a college professor would but that should not keep me from enjoying the book. If a book is a good book and worth reading you will be able to tell what the writer was trying to say not only through the text on the page, but through the feeling and thoughts that were put into writing that book. If no feeling was there when written then that book is probably not worth reading. I think that this is what Helen Keller was trying to say, and this book is the perfect definition of a book full of thought and feeling.very time I pick this book up I spend more time pondering what she is saying than reading because this book is so deep and so full of ideas that it's impossible not to think about them. This book inspir
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells all.Helen Keller accomplished many things she even went to collgege after being blind and death i dont understand how she did it.Although till this day it is still very hard for me to understnad this book because of the fact that she not like all.This book was very suspenseful i wnated to know how she did it when did it.I recomend this book to all ages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Story of My Life was a fantastic novel. Helen Keller really showed how hard it was being both blind and deaf. Her teacher Anne Sullivan helped her overcome all of her disabilities. She also demonstrated her struggles, accomplishments, and fears. Helen revealed many sides of herself through this book. It makes me sad to think about how she had a tough life, but it makes me happy to see how much she accomplished throughout her life. This book is a very good novel, and it should be on everybody's to read list!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Helen Keller overcame feats that seemed overwhelming to the average person,not withstanding disabilities. Beautifully written. A must read!
drebbles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written when Helen Keller was 22, "The Story of My Life" is about her life as a child and young lady. She was not born blind and deaf, but as a toddler suffered an illness that almost killed her and robbed her of her sight and hearing. Helen was seemingly unteachable and growing wilder each day until Helen's parents hired Anne Sullivan who was to become her beloved "Teacher". Helen became a proficient student, learning not only to read and write and speak, but also learning several languages eventually graduating from Radcliffe College. This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary woman. The book is divided into two parts: Keller's autobiography and her letters. Her autobiography is written a bit flowery, but is interesting as she describes her early years and how she tried to communicate with people and her increasing frustration when they couldn't understand her. She writes about how Anne Sullivan finally got her to understand the word for "water" and how she quickly learned other words after that breakthrough. She tackles what was a very painful time in her young life when she was accused of plagiarizing a story when she was only 11 years old. She ends her autobiography by describing the things she loves in life: reading (books that she loves and her favorite authors), history, languages, the outdoors, sailing and visiting friends. As interesting as Keller's autobiography is, her letters reveal even more about her life. Printed in chronological order, starting when Helen was just 7 years old, the letters show how quickly her grammar and writing skills developed. In the autobiographical section of the book, it is easy to forget that Keller was deaf and blind as she writes about talking to people and things that she's seen. Her letters explain better how people communicated with her and even the toll it took on Anne Sullivan, who had continuous problems with her eyes. Her letters explain how she wrote letters using a special board and a regular pencil and how she was able to read people's lips and feel things in a museum to get an appreciation of art. Very interesting reading. My only complaint about this wonderful book is the editing. The book was first published in 1903 and has been in print ever since, but I wonder when it was last edited. There are notations that a footnote will follow but there is no footnote. There are mentions of people who were well known in Helen's time, but today's readers might not know how they were and footnotes should have been used to explain who they were, starting with Laura Bridgman who apparently was the inspiration for much of the education the young Helen got. Also, Helen raised money for the education of a blind and deaf boy, but there was no mention of what happened to him later in life. Editing aside, this is a wonderful, inspirational book and I highly recommend it.
Cecrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I became interested in reading Helen Keller's autobiography after seeing the original movie "The Miracle Worker", now one of my favourites. I was a bit sorry when all of that was dispensed with in the first four chapters, and discovered that Miss Keller's account hardly matches the movie version. I chalked up the difference to Hollywood invention - a bit disappointing. Helen relates her story up to her college years and is fairly lacklustre as far as biographies go. Mostly it's devoted to discoveries about the things she most grew to love. Highlights include famous people she met (Mark Twain being my favourite), and her surprising daring at trying things I wouldn't have expected - riding a bicycle and rowing a boat alone, for example.She was very descriptive throughout, almost poetic, which greatly impressed me. Then in Chapter Fourteen comes the poem she wrote and was accused of plagiarizing. She gives a convincing account of how this must have occurred subconsciously, and what a setback it was to suspect every thought she had as not being her own. It also cast my reading in a different light: how much of the descriptive detail I'd been admiring had she simply echoed? It earned my sympathy to read about this circumstance in which she could no longer trust her own imagination. Fortunately she found the confidence to pursue her dream of a college education, which is where her biography (written in her early twenties) draws to a close. While I admired her bravery, it wasn't a standout biography for me. Before I set it aside, I saw there were substantial appendices so I gave those a peek. The first was a collection of letters. While the content was fairly dull, it was remarkable how quickly she progressed in vocabulary and grammar. In the space of two years she went from discovering words to writing age-appropriate letters to her friends and family. After those, I discovered the real treasure: a retelling of her biography from the perspective of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Its preface explains that Helen Keller had little memory of her life prior to being educated, nor could she convey an outside perspective of what her education had entailed. Miss Sullivan's account is an almost scene-for-scene description of what occurs in the movie - surprise! Then it goes well beyond that, relating Miss Keller's remarkable development from her teacher's viewpoint. This was the biography I'd imagined reading in the first place. I was hooked.I'm tempted to recommend others go straight to Anne Sullivan's account. But in hindsight I can say it's worth your time to read both sides (internal and external) for the full picture of this remarkable woman's experience in being awakened to the wonders of life and language.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting look at Ms. Keller's young life - learning to communicate in a world where her blindness and deafness isolate her from just about everyone at first. Some of the passages don't seem as if they could be written by someone who was blind and deaf. Her descriptions of nature - particularly the sounds - seem improbable. Perhaps this was a result of her education - the ability to describe things for others that she didn't actually have firsthand experience with but only experience from Ms. Sullivan's descriptions. I certainly admire Ms. Keller's persistence and her keen mind. How many seeing and hearing people today master four languages by the time they have entered college??
itbgc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book about a brilliant, loving young woman who just happened to be blind and deaf. When Helen was 19, she penned the following words in a letter: "The thought that my dear Heavenly Father is always near, giving me abundantly of all those things, which truly enrich life and make it sweet and beautiful, makes every deprivation seem of little moment compared with the countless blessings I enjoy."Anne Sullivan, her famous tutor, taught Helen at age 11 that "the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart."
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this autobiography of Helen Keller is of interest, and some of the extra mateial in this book is of interest, but there are a lot of boring letters by Helen Keller which taxed my patience and added nothing of interest. The actual story of how she came to learn and actuaally graduated from Radcliffe is of interest and worth reading.
LadyIrene on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This "restored" edition has been reedited by Roger Shattuck to reflect more accurately its original compostiion, presenting Helen Keller's story in three successive accounts: Helen's own version; the letters of "teacher" Anne s"ullivan, shubmerged in the original; and thevaluable documentation frunished by their young assistant, John Marcy.Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in 1880. Before her second birhtday, a mysterious illness left her deaf and blind. She graduated with honors from Radcliffe College in 1904, on year fafter the initial publication of The Story Of My Life, and wa the author of thriteen books. She died in 1968. Roger Shattuck, author of Forbidden Knowledge and The Banquet Years, won the National Book Award for a work abot Marcel Proust. University Professor Emeritus at Boston University, Shattuck lives in Vermont. Dorothy Herrmann is the author of Helen Keller: A Life and of three other biographies. She lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and New York City.Jacket Design by Eleen Cheung Jacket Photograph by Library of Congress Printed in USA
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a Sophmore in high school and I had to complete a research project on the topic of Helen Keller. I chose this book to read for the research project, however I am very pleased with how much detail the book had. This book allowed me to thoroughly answer the questions that were given in order for me to complete this project. Going in to the project I felt I knew things about Helen Keller but after reading this it gave me so much more information and allowed me to learn things I never knew about Helen Keller. I thought I was going to get really bored while reading the but over the time period that I read the book I did not want to put it down. The book did have a lot of information that I needed however I did have to use the Internet in order to find different things I needed. I really did enjoy reading this book I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that wants to know detailed information about Helen Keller. This book is a very inspirational book and also allows you to know that anything is possible.
J-peeham More than 1 year ago
I'm a high school sophomore, and I was assigned to read the life of Helen Keller, the book was filled with a lot of information about what encountered her life, I would have really liked it was more about the challenges that she encountered. I really liked the part when the book included the first time Helen touched water, and it showed her the true meaning of what the term “water” meant, her definition was that it meant something wonderful and cool that flowed above her hand. Sometimes Helen would put her hand on people’s mouths to feel the way the lips would move so she can understand what they were saying. I eventually found it a cool way to understand what people would be saying by just touching the movements of their mouths. Besides all of that, I would recommend this book for the ones who are interested in knowing about the life of Helen Keller.